Farm workers at Jack Brothers, Inc. farm in Imperial Valley on Nov. 15, 2022.
Farm workers at Jack Brothers, Inc. farm in Imperial Valley on Nov. 15, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

It’s been 20 years since the largest water agencies in Southern California agreed on a historic deal: San Diego would buy water from Imperial Valley farmers. More importantly, though, the deal outlined exactly how much water these agencies could claim from the Colorado River and reduced the amount of water California took from the river.  

It quantified the water (why it’s called the Quantification Settlement Agreement) and put a price on water rights for the first time.  

Now, 20 years later, Southern California officials think it is a model for a similar agreement for the western United States. 

They need to do something. Abnormal rainfall last year spared millions of people a major reckoning. California, Arizona and Nevada take more water from the Colorado River than it can reliably deliver and the reservoirs reached dangerously low levels. Massive, unimaginable cutbacks are on the horizon.  

We also can’t imagine a better time to talk about water. Voice of San Diego and CalMatters will be gathering top water officials from Southern California, Nevada and Arizona to discuss the past (the historic 2003 settlement) and the future (the needed deal for the Colorado River) at 2023 Politifest, Oct. 7 at University of San Diego. 

On the Agenda

A view of Lake Mead on Jan. 31, 2023. The largest reservoir on the Colorado River has reached dangerously low levels due to prolonged drought and overuse. / Photo by Joseph Griffin for Voice of San Diego
A view of Lake Mead on Jan. 31, 2023. / Photo by Joseph Griffin for Voice of San Diego

The Biggest Water Deal in California History: Did It Work? It’s been 20 years since the largest water agencies in Southern California agreed to the Quantification Settlement Agreement. A look back at San Diego’s biggest water security deal on the Colorado River. 

  • Adel Hagekhalil, general manager and CEO, Metropolitan Water District 
  • Dan Denham, general manager, San Diego County Water Authority 
  •  Tina Shields, water department manager, Imperial Irrigation District 
  • Michael Cohen, senior associate, Pacific Institute

The Future of the Colorado River: How will the states learn to share? People are taking more water than the Colorado River has to give. In 2026, major sharing agreements between seven states and Mexico expire. Can the West reckon with a drier future — and fast?  


  • Jeff Kightlinger, Acequia Consulting, consultant, Imperial Irrigation District 
  • John Entsminger, general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority  
  • Brenda Burman, general manager, Central Arizona Project 

Cost of Water Smackdown: Representatives from San Diego’s biggest and namesake city and one of its smallest cities go head-to-head over the region’s wildly high water prices. 


  • Nick Serrano, vice chair of San Diego County Water Authority board 
  • Jack Bebee, general manager, Fallbrook Public Utilities District 

How Can California Boost Its Water Supply? Where can California get enough water to survive the next inevitable dry stretch? Can it pump more water from the salty Pacific Ocean? Treat waste flushed down toilets and washed down drains? Capture runoff that flows off streets into storm drains? Tow Antarctic icebergs to Los Angeles? 

Every time another drought rolls around, an array of suggestions rise to the surface. This panel will look at the strategies that could work — along with the more outlandish ones — and the obstacles they face. 


  • Heather Cooley, director of research – Pacific Institute 
  • Alvar Escriva-Bou, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA 

Update: This post has been updated to include new speakers.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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